Saturday, December 5, 2009

Twilight Parody

Nightlight: A Parody by The Harvard Lampoon (NY: Vintage, 2009)

This parody dissects all the stupidity at the heart of the Twilight series, including the first movie. In fact, some of the images come straight from the movie, and a reader who has not seen the movie may not understand all the gags inspired by the silly visuals in the movie. On the other hand, only a reader who has been immersed in the novel--and wondered at some of its ridiculous situations and statements--can appreciate the (nit)wit that is Belle Goose and her fellow characters here. Werewolf fans, take note: the dogs are completely absent from this parody.

Not a Paranormal Romance

Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart (NY: HarperTeen, 2009)

Thankfully, the main character of this complex novel, Katie, does not fall in love with a ghost. Rather, she deals with more figurative ghosts from the past, including her dead mother and a mysterious neighbor at whose estate Katie has taken a summer gardening job. While her father toils at his work restoring paintings to assuage his grief over his wife's death, Katie thinks that isolating herself from her usual friends and interests will help her come to terms with her loss. Instead she becomes involved in solving a mystery from the past, learning to love in the present, and looking forward to her future in a way she did not think would be possible when she started out. Bonus feature: sexy librarian character.

A Gallagher Girl Thriller

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter (NY: Disney-Hyperion, 2009)

This is the third installment in this series about an exclusive girls' academy for training spies. Cammie "The Chameleon" Morgan is the protagonist; her mom is the headmistress of the school, and her dad is dead. Cammie's principal mission in this novel is to protect one of her best friends, Macey, from kidnappers who seem to want her because her father is running for Vice President of the United States. Cammie should know better than to trust appearances--and she's constantly reminded of that as her sort-of boyfriend Zach keeps appearing and disappearing throughout the novel and she can't figure out what's up with him or who might be trying to snag Macey.

Nonstop action makes this novel a thrilling ride for readers in grades 6 and up. No sex or language issues.

A National Book Award Winner

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (NY: Scholastic, 2008)

This historical novel, set in post-WW2 1947, features almost-sixteen-year-old Evie Spooner, whose stepfather Joe has just returned from the war. Everything seems great at first--Joe quickly finds business success while Evie's mom finally gets to stop working. Then Joe's past intrudes and the family takes a sudden vacation to Florida where Evie falls in love with an ex-GI who had served under Joe and seems to know something. The mysterious web grows ever thicker, and Evie has to intervene to set things right, as the title suggests.

Mild sexual situations, language. Grades 7 and up.

Weighty Issues, #2

My Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught (NY: Bloomsbury, 2008)

Jamie Carcaterra is a fat girl on a mission: to broadcast the seamy underside of being overweight in a weight obsessed culture. She's writing a feature column during her senior year to expose all the crap she has to put up with--from snotty shop clerks to the lack of cute clothes for teens of her dimensions. She doesn't want sympathy--she doesn't have time for it with her busy schedule that includes a boyfriend and a big role in an upcoming school musical. Then her boyfriend decides to have bariatric surgery and Jamie's world starts wobbling.

Jamie is a great protagonist with a lot to say about the issues facing overweight individuals, especially teens. In particular, the novel shows the dangers associated with gastric bypass surgery--it's not a magic wand for fat people to become thin. There are dangers and it is not appropriate (or even possible) for some people. Additionally, Jamie shows that appearance should not matter so much and how much it hurts people when it does.

Excellent teen read, grades 9 and up. Sexual situations and cussing!

Weighty Issues, #1

Looks by Madeleine George (NY: Penguin, 2008)

This novel sticks in your head for a long time. At least it did for me. I read it more than a year ago, probably when it first came out, and the images from it kept popping back to me. I couldn't remember the title or author, but I remembered how accurately the author had captured the devastating effects of high school bullying on a friendless girl who is different from everyone else. In this case, the girl is obese, but since so many adolescents feel this type of isolation, her case can apply to nearly any teen who feels desperately alone and put upon because of her appearance or some other perceived defect.

Meghan Ball strives for invisibility, and it's amazing how often she is overlooked, despite her enormous size. Meghan recognizes a kindred spirit in new girl Aimee Zorn, although Aimee is as thin as Meghan is heavy. Aimee initially resists Meghan's overtures, but when Meghan's warnings about a girl who pretends to befriend Aimee turn out to be true, Aimee turns to Meghan for help. Meghan manages to conceive and help execute a plan that helps not only Aimee, but herself. This is not to say that the novel has a happy shiny ending, but circumstances are improved for both girls because they have each other.

Recommended for teens, grades 7 and up. Some sexual innuendos, teenage cruelty, moderate language.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pretty is....

Gorgeous by Rachel Vail (NY: HarperCollins, 2009)

In this quirky twist of the Faust story, ninth-grade Allison Avery makes a deal with devil: her cell phone in exchange for seven people thinking she's gorgeous. For terminally insecure, Allison this seems like a no brainer. But then she finds herself having to choose what's more important to her: her family and relationships or selling out to win a modeling contest.

Excellent teen read. Some cursing, no sex, no violence.

Ghost Huntress Book 2

Ghost Huntress Book 2: The Guidance by Marly Gibson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

Teen-aged Kendall Moorehead is dealing with a lot of new things in her life--new town, new home, new friends, new boyfriend (her first!), and newly awakened psychic abilities. Unfortunately, the mean girl queen bee Courtney Langdon decides Kendall is getting too much attention, so she tries to become psychic as well, but ends up possessed by a Civil War soldier-ghost. Kendall and her posse of ghost hunters manage to get it all sorted out in this exciting installment of this great series. Kendall is a down-to-earth teen-ager dealing with typical teen issues plus her new abilities. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, this series has plenty to offer. Try it!

Mild language, sexual situations, paranormal phenomenon.

Airhead #2

Being Nikki by Meg Cabot (NY: Point, 2009)

Em is smart AND supermodel pretty. Every teen girl's dream, right? Not when Em has to die to get the new body. This is the second installment in the Airhead series. In the first book, Em dies and her brain is transplanted into the body of supermodel Nikki. Now Em continues to adjust to life as Nikki as she also helps Nikki's brother find "their" mother and deals with strains in her relationship with her own sister, parents, and old friends--including the boy she likes. Fans of Meg Cabot will enjoy this new series!

Mild language, sexual situations. 7th grade and up.

Title Censored

Castration Celebration by Jake Wizner (NY: Random House, 2009)

Olivia and Max literally trip over each other on the first day of a summer arts camp at Yale University. Olivia is working on frank, boy bashing musical to help cope with a difficult family situation--she walked in on her professor father receiving oral sex from a graduate student. Max is an actor--and a guy who always scores with the ladies. Max decides he likes Olivia, etc., etc. Despite its unfortunate title, this novel is OK, but not great, especially if you like lots and lots (and lots) of lewd, off color jokes and penis humor. Definitely NOT one for the middle school/junior high library.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Wish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser (NY: Egmont, 2009)

Soundview is supposed to be safe, so how is it possible that the most popular teens are disappearing? What's the link between Str-S-d's blogposts and these disappearances? Nice girl Madison leads a privileged life as a sheltered teen in a wealthy community, so she's frightened and perplexed when friends she's known for years go missing. She wants to trust the new guy in town, but should she? He seems to have secrets. Mysterious messages, vandalism, phantom sounds--this novel will have readers guessing. An excellent whodunit for high-school and up. Language, mature themes, intense situations.

Girlfriend Material

Girlfriend Material by Melissa Kantor (NY: Hyperion, 2009)

This novel explores many different types of relationships, not just romantic ones, as the title might imply. Sixteen-year-old Kate's summer plans change dramatically when her mom and dad decide to spend some time apart, which ends up meaning that Kate and her mom fly to Cape Cod from their Salt Lake City home to spend the summer with some old friends of her mom's. Kate remembers having a great time ten years earlier with their daughter, so she agrees to go, albeit reluctantly. Many struggles await Kate as she tries to make sense of emotional complexities she's never had to deal with before--her best friend dating a jock, her mother flirting with an old friend, the daughter treating Kate like an old sock, her own attempts to find a comfort zone in a completely different environment where she has to adjust her expectations--about herself and everyone else--regularly. High school readers will enjoy this coming-of-age novel. Language, mature themes.


The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler (2009)

When Penny Lane moves from Manhattan to Hog's Hollow, it's more than culture shock. Her mom and dad say they are "taking a break," so she assumes she'll be back home in NYC soon. Instead her mom opens a cupcake bakery and Penny ends up as chief cupcake designer--plus she has to start her freshman year at a new high school and try to make new friends. But nothing seems to work out smoothly, as Penny immediately makes an enemy of the queen bee of the popular crowd--in a cupcake fiasco that will have readers laughing. Penny finds a few kindred spirits and a prank battle ensues, but Penny has to endure life lessons about other relationships as well.
Excellent novel for grades 6-9. No sex, language, violence.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mad Cow

Going Bovine by Libba Bray (2009)

This novel is one wacky ride. Synopsis: loner stoner contracts mad cow disease and has crazy trip en route to the other side. Surreal doesn't quite describe the journey, and if you like your fiction realistic, set this one aside.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Crazy Teen

Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern (2007)

Anna Bloom is depressed, overweight, and probably suicidal, so her parents take her to a mental institution. That sounds like a pretty grim starting point for a teen novel, but Get Well Soon flies on Anna's honest quirkiness and funny descriptions of Lake Shit, as the she and her fellow inmates call this "freak hole" loony bin where they've all landed. It's a long way from her suburban home, yet she makes friends, learns about herself, and even gets her first kiss.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Paulsen!

Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen (2009)

I don't enjoy survival-in-nasty-outdoor-condition books at all, so Gary Paulsen is not an author I select regularly. A couple of years ago, however, I laughed my way through Paulsen's The Amazing Life of Birds: The Twenty-Day Puberty Journal of Duane Homer Leech, so when I saw Notes from the Dog, I decided to give it a try. The protagonist, 14-year-old Finn, has big plans for the summer--avoiding people and reading a pile of books. He's willing to make a few exceptions: his dad, his friend Matthew who's living with him this summer, and his dog Dylan; overall, though, he's an awkward introvert. His new neighbor, twenty-something Johanna, sets him on a whole new course. She's undergoing treatment for breast cancer and soon has Finn creating a garden for her in his backyard, raising money for breast cancer research, and--shockingly--talking to more people than he ever thought possible--even girls.

This novel is an amazing, and short, trip down a very emotional road. I laughed and cried but did not feel manipulated. Paulsen is a wonderful writer who deftly handles difficult topics and leaves the reader feeling touched and thoughtful. Highly recommended for grades 6-9.

Slept Away

Slept Away by Julie Kraut (2009)

What happens when a Park Avenue teen gets shipped to summer camp in Pennsylvania? Lots of funny stuff! Laney Parker has some major adjustments to make: no cell phone, no diet coke, no internet, no friends. Things look pretty bleak until she finds a kindred spirit and regains her sense of humor. No language, sex, violence.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dead Girl #1

Dead Girl Walking by Linda Joy Singleton (2008)

Seventeen-year-old Amber Borden is a little upset that her plans to make a social splash didn't quite turn out as she envisioned, but she knows she'll get over her disappointment when she receives the scholarship offer of her dreams--right before getting hit my the mail truck that delivers it. Who knew that taking the wrong turn in the afterlife would leave her in the body of the most popular girl in school? She's dealing with a whole new level of problems now, not least of which is: how can she get back her body--and her life? This is a fun paranormal adventure with a spunky, good-hearted heroine. No language or violence; some mild sexual situations.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fun New Series by Van Draanen!

The Gecko and Sticky: Villain's Lair
by Wendelin Van Draanen (2009)

Shredderman made me pick up this volume; it's first book in Wendelin Van Draanen's new series about a talking gecko named Sticky ( he's got sticky fingers, as in, he likes to steal things...) because, yeah, fiction featuring talking animals doesn't usually appeal to me. At all. I made an exception because I love Shredderman and all of Van Draanen's other titles--like the Sammy Keyes mysteries, Flipped, and Runaway--and I'm so glad I did because this series is great. Elementary-aged kids will love the fast-pace, silly rhymes, and goofy situations that our hapless hero, thirteen-year-old Dave Sanchez, finds himself in as he first befriends and then helps Sticky retrieve some powerful gold coins from the evil villain, Damien Black. This would make a great readaloud for the elementary set--grades 2 through 4 or 5 most likely.

The Gecko and Sticky: The Greatest Power, the second book in the series, extends the fun as Damien Black continues to menace our heroes. This time Damien Black, while still seeking to get the powerful coins away from Dave, robs a bank. Dave happens to be present, sees what happens, and decides to get the money back for the bank, which happens to employ him. Kids will enjoy reading as Dave and Sticky develop a partnership and Dave shows the value of friendship.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vast Fields of Ordinary

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd (2009)

This is a "more" novel. It's more than gay fiction, more than first love, more than coming out, more than coming-of-age, although it has all of these elements. Burd writes beautifully, the novel's many layers coalesce well, and the main character, Dade Hamilton is achingly real. It's his last summer before college, he has a crap job at a grocery store, his parents' marriage is falling apart, and the guy he's been fooling around with barely acknowledges the relationship. He's existed on the fringes for a long time, but this last summer he seems to be drawn to want more. He's also oddly aware of the case of a missing nine-year-old autistic girl who seems to be appearing in odd places, including Dade's own backyard. Stepping outside his comfort zone with the help of some new friends, Dade learns a lot before he even gets to college.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teen Memoir

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

I enjoyed Zevin's first novel, Elsewhere, quite a bit because I thought she did a nice job exploring the afterlife. In Memoirs, she again imagines a fanciful, though appealing, scenario: what if you banged your head and couldn't remember who you were. That's what happens to the protagonist, Naomi Porter. She's at the beginning of her junior year, doing some early extracurricular yearbook work with her best friend Will, when she tumbles down the school's front steps, knocks her noggin and can only remember her life up to about seventh grade. Interestingly, she can remember math and science, but not French! Even more interesting are the insights she gains into herself as she discovers--and questions--her previous self's thoughts and actions. I think this is what makes the novel so fascinating and what will most engage teen readers. Highly recommended for grades 7 and up. Sexual situations, language.

Genre: Inspirational fiction

Breathless by Lurlene McDaniel (2009)

I selected this title randomly off the new fiction shelf at the library because I recognized McDaniel's name from all my volunteer shelving at the middle school and knew she was prolific. I did not know what kind of fiction she wrote, at all. Turns out it's classified as "inspirational" fiction for teens.

This novel tackles the theme of euthanasia as one of the main characters, Cooper, has to decide whether or not to help his best friend, Travis, end his cancer-shortened life. McDaniel does not trivialize the topic or make it a black and white issue. Nor does she develop the characters to any great extent. The novel is short and to the point. It seems to be meant to generate discussion about a topic rather than engage the reader in a riveting situation (that would be Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper, for instance) .

Monday, October 12, 2009

Still Wimpy

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney (2009)

Jeff Kinney scores another hit with this fourth installment in his Wimpy Kid series. Greg Heffley plans a summer vacation of indoor sloth after he and his friend Rowley charge up 83 dollars worth of fruit smoothies at the country club pool and Greg is no longer invited there. Greg does not want to return to the town pool because of the specter that greets him en route to the pool in the locker room--hairy old guys showering. What could be worse? Actually having to enter the shower area to retrieve his little brother Manny when HE wanders into the shower--after first confusing the urinals for sinks! Greg finds solace in some odd places--like the gossipy ladies at the beauty shop--but he steers clear of Fregley, the odd kid with "hygiene issues." Other disasters await Greg, with lots of laughs for us!

Good news, Wimpy fans: there's going to be a fifth book!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another for Austen Fans

Me & Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter (2007)

After too many disappointing first dates, Emily Albright has decided to give up on men and stay home with her favorite book, Pride & Prejudice, permanently. She loves her job managing an independent bookstore in NYC and really does not need a man. Her best friend Stella argues that she should try a fun holiday get away in Mexico, and even books the tickets, but Emily insists that she's got other plans, and happens to pick up a brochure for a literature tour in England the same week. And then impulsively books the tour. Where she meets Mr. Darcy in the flesh. Yum.

This is a fun read full of parallels between Emily's life and the plot line of her favorite novel. It's all pretty obvious, and eventually Emily sees it, too. Nonetheless, Austen fans will love reading this one. Adults only!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Not Wimpy--Just Funny!

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell (2009)

Nikki Maxwell believes her mother is brain dead, and she has proof: she asked for an iPhone and got--a dorky diary! Sure, she's a great artist, but she wants a social life, not a pity party with blank book. Her family has just moved to a new town and she's starting at a fancy new school, courtesy of a scholarship granted to her because her father has been hired as the school's exterminator. Yup, his business van, complete with large black roach flopped on the roof, will make regular visits to her new school. Argh.

It just gets worse for Nikki--her locker is right next that of the queen of the CCP--Cute, Cool, & Popular--clique, Mackenzie, who is probably the meanest girl in the history of queen bee meanies. Nikki would love to respond to some of Mackenzie's nasty jibes and cruel comments about other people, but she's way too shy, so she says them all in her head. And in her diary, of course! Nikki brilliantly illustrates her many humiliating foibles--and her eventual triumphs. This is a fun and hilarious book for all the fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid who need a few more laughs about the drama that is tween and teen life. Recommended for grades 3 and up.

Not so Peachy

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson (2005)

With a cover blurb of promising "a sweet and delicious read" from Ann Brashares, Peaches sounded like a perfect bite of fun. Unfortunately, it wasn't. I slogged through it, hoping it would get better, but it just did not. The slow start proceeded through to a slow middle, at which point the novel did improve, but not enough to redeem it.

The problem, I think, is that Anderson chose an omniscient third person narration style rather than focusing on one of her three protagonists' points of view. Birdie would have worked well; she's the sweet, shy, awkward girl whose father owns the nearly failing peach orchard. Instead, the novel bops between Birdie and two other girls, as they eventually develop a close friendship. Anderson tells more than shows, so even that friendship seems somewhat less-than-authentic. But that's just my opinion, and others may find the novel's plot more enthralling than I did.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cold War Horror

The Year of the Bomb by Ronald Kidd (2009)

Paul and his buddies love horror movies and go to see them every Saturday afternoon, like lots of kids did in the 1950s. It's the Cold War era and in addition to the horror of films, there's the daily horror of expecting an atomic bomb to drop any second. Their social studies teacher, Mrs. Kramer, stokes their fears by telling them that good Americans should be on the watch for Communists, who are feeding secrets to the US's sworn enemy, Russia. Nearly every day she has her students practice "drop" drills--as if hiding under a desk will save them from instant vaporization. Paul's own father has a job building planes that he won't talk about, and Paul suspects it's top secret. Another boy's father can't get a job as a Hollywood sound man--he's been blacklisted because his father, the boy's grandfather, had been a union organizer and a Communist Party leader.

The boys are thrilled to learn that a horror movie, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is going to be filmed right in their town of Sierra Madre, California. They're drawn to one of the extras in the movie, a pretty woman named Laura Burke, who's the body double of one of the stars. The boys suspect her friend Darryl is up to no good, and when they nose around, they get caught up in an investigation that includes famous physicist Richard Feynman!

The creepy paranoia of the period compels the characters, and those around them, to act as mindlessly as the pod people being portrayed in the film. The uncanny parallels between the movie under production and the Cold War insanity make this an excellent historical novel for ages 10 and up. The relatively low lexile (500) plus the high interest of the story, with plenty of action and suspense, should put this book on many elementary reading lists. Watch for it to win some awards, too!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Few Tips

Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend by Carrie Jones (2009)

Tip #1: The list motif is getting old in YA lit.

Tip #2: This much stuff couldn't possibly happen in the course of a single week.

Tip #3: And what happens requires complete suspension of disbelief, and not in a happy fantasy kind of way.

Tip #4 If you're going to move a plot this quickly, supply a neck brace.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

In this stunningly poignant epistolary novel, Charlie pours out all his fears and feelings about his first year of high school to an anonymous "friend," someone who apparently could have taken advantage of a sexual situation and did not. For Charlie, this is important, though the full significance does not become clear to the reader until the novel's end. Charlie seems timid and scared; he weeps often and abundantly, yet he is strong enough to push through all the tribulations and amazing firsts that high school brings--facing down bullies, the cafeteria quagmire, burgeoning sexuality, shifting family dynamics, making friends, facing new social situations. He's a quirky bundle of nerves, wound up tight, swerving erratically over this bumpy road that is adolescence. He's a survivor yet the vastness threatens to overwhelm him at every turn. The clarity of detail, the sheer terror, pervades every word, every sentence. Horror and comedy intermingle; strength of character prevails, yet this novel probes and punctures every adolescent cliche and leaves them all tattered.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Too Much Information?

tmi by Sarah Quigley (2009)

Becca knows that she has a tendency to overshare cringe-worthy details of her own and others' lives. But even she knows she's gone too far when her first boyfriend dumps her for showing her friends a poem he wrote and her own cruel remark about his kissing technique. She vows to change--instead of blabbing, she'll write everything in an anonymous blog. That's her first mistake as her private fantasies become public, for better or worse. Loads of teen angst and drama here--including a high school production of Grease with Becca in the lead role opposite her megacrush and the unplanned outing of Becca's gay guy friend. Some language, sexual situations. OK for grades 7 & up.

The Market

The Market by J.M. Steele (2008)

It's every teen girl's nightmare: her social value posted on the Internet for all to see. That's what happens to Kate Winthrop after she gets an anonymous IM that sends her to the homepage of the Millbank Social Stock Market. The bad news: she's ranked 71 out of 140. The good news: she's a smart girl and quickly rallies her forces (her two best friends) to game the market and ramp up her ranking. And she does, but at what cost? It's worth the read to find out. The market analogy gets explained somewhat pedantically but is no less apt to explore the forces at work in Kate's life as she deals with the ups and downs of her manipulations. Some language, sexual situations.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Maximum Ride

Max (A Maximum Ride Novel) by James Patterson (2009)

In this volume of the series, Max has to save her mother from evil criminal mastermind Mr. Chu. Max is also dealing with her romantical feelings for her flockmate, Fang, and a mild rebellion from Nudge, the bird-kid fashionista. The nonstop action makes this a quick read. No cussing, no sex, just lots of action and violence. And fart jokes. Appropriate for boys or girls, 11+.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fluffy Fun

The Boyfriend League (2007) and Caribbean Cruising (2004), both by Rachel Hawthorne

Looking for a fun teen romance that's perfect for beach reading? Select either one of these. They follow the standard romance formula: Girl meets boy, and she's instantly attracted but comes up with a some flimsy excuses to resist, eventually succumbs, kissing ensues. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Excellent YA Pick

Willow by Julia Hoban (2009)

Willow is a cutter. It's the only way she can deal with the pain and guilt she feels over her parents' death in a car accident seven months before. Never mind that her parents wanted to have a little more wine at dinner and then made her, a novice driver with only a learner's permit, their designated driver during a terrible storm--Willow still feels at fault. She's living with her older brother and knows that he hates her for killing their parents and ruining his life by imposing herself into it. When the guilt and memories overwhelm Willow, she cuts herself, and that pain somehow allows her deal with everything else.

No one knows Willow's secret until she meets Guy, who somehow insinuates himself into her life. Willow works through some of her issues as her relationship with Guy develops. Yes, it's a little weird to have a novel about cutting overlap with first love, but it works. Is everything tied up neatly at the end? No, but there's hope, and that's enough.

Willow is a beautiful story, compellingly told and is by far one of the best YA novels I've read for a while. Watch for it on all the prize lists in the next year or so! Recommended for high school and older due to intense scenes, sex, and language.

An FBI Thriller

Knock Out by Catherine Coulter (2009)

I have read a bunch of the books featuring Savich and Sherlock, and I did not enjoy this one quite as much as some of the others. The story is quite convoluted, for starters, and there seems to be an incredible amount of gratuitous violence--bombs, blood, shootings, terrorizing of victims, etc. There are two plot lines. In one, Savich is being pursued by an evil teen-aged girl who wants revenge for Savich's having killed her bank robber mother during a heist at which Savich just happens to be present. In the other, a little girl with incredible psychic abilities calls on Savich telepathically to help her and her mother escape the clutches of an evil mad man (who also has some weird psychic abilities). With so much going on, the action is nonstop. As with most of Coulter's thrillers, there is a romance element, but with all the other stuff going on, it's diluted. Action supersedes relationships in this installment. Better luck next time....

11 Birthdays

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass (2009)

This is a cute little novel for boys or girls, grades 3-5. The main character, Amanda, had a huge fight with her best friend Leo on their last birthday, which they shared as usual. The two of them had been friends since birth--at which time, unbeknownst to them, an old charm was rekindled. Amanda and Leo had not spoken since their tenth birthday and are having their separate parties for their eleventh birthday. Amanda has a terrible day, including her party, and then it gets worse when the day starts repeating, a la Ground Hog's Day! The story unfolds as Amanda and Leo re-establish their friendship and together figure out how to stop repeating the same day over and over.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I Love Austen!

Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard (2009)

On a school trip to London, Callie buys a pair of Prada pumps, hoping to pump up her popularity. Instead, she trips and bangs her head—waking up in regency-era England. She wangles her way into a swanky country estate owned by an adorable young duke, who seems to be a bit arrogant. Callie and his cousin Emily become friends and Callie helps Emily avoid an arranged marriage to a much older man. Of course, Callie and the duke end up liking each other, too.

This novel is a fun take-off on Austen and a good read for teen girls. If you like the motif of time travel to Austen's period, try Laurie Viera Rigler's Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (2007) as well, though this one is definitely aimed at an adult audience (mature themes, ahem).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ghostgirl #2

Homecoming by Tonya Hurley (2009)

Charlotte Usher is having the same kind of luck in the afterlife as she had when she was alive--no one will pay any attention to her! Her Dead Ed friends are so wrapped up in their reunions with dead family members and their internship activities they seem to stop noticing Charlotte. That's a familiar place for Charlotte, who died trying to become popular. She ends up hanging around with Maddy, another loner who actually seems to be nurturing Charlotte's insecurities. Then Charlotte's best friend (from the real world), Scarlett, needs help only a dead friend like Charlotte can give her. Petula, Scarlett's petulent, self-obsessed older sister, is in a coma after developing a virulent staph infection from a botched pedicure. While Petula waits for death, literally, in a ghost version of a hospital intake office, Scarlett manages to cross over to the dead world, make contact with Charlotte, and then, ultimately snag her sister right before the nurse calls Petula's name! And just in time for Homecoming! Hurray!

This second installment in the Ghostgirl series moves more smoothly than the first and explains some of the information missing from the first, such as Charlotte's lack of family. Homecoming also has more blatantly comic moments than the first volume, perhaps because Petula is such an obvious target for ridicule.

Ghostgirl #1

Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley (2008)

Charlotte Usher dies an ignominious death; she chokes on a gummy bear right after she gets paired up in Chemistry with the boy she's been crushing on. She spent all summer planning how she could get noticed--following a beautification program and working in the school office so she could have access to the boy's schedule and get in the same classes he was taking. She has felt ignored, invisible, and hoped to change that--be popular for a change--but didn't really get a chance.

Death wasn't much different for Charlotte. Hurley leaves out some important details, like why Charlotte has no family and even her age and year in school. Some of it can be inferred, but the lack of family does not get explained until the second book in the series! In fact, the plot doesn't really jell until Charlotte dies and ends up in Dead Education, or Dead Ed--a class for kids who have to pass a test to move on. At last Charlotte has some interactions with her peers! (But isn't it sad that they're all dead and have their own morose life tales?) They try to tell her to ignore her old life and get on with her death, but Charlotte still feels attached, as if there's a reason she needs to follow her old classmates' lives. Then she finds out that the goth younger sister, Scarlett, of the school's queen bee, Petula, can see her. That's unusual. Charlotte and Scarlett become friends--a first for Charlotte--and bond over their mutual disdain of Petula's selfish actions and immoral values. Charlotte even persuades Scarlett to help her switch places--via possession!--so Charlotte can enjoy some body time with her crush, Damen, who happens to be dating the nasty Petula. Charlotte's goal: to go to the Fall Ball with Damen.

In the end, Charlotte realizes that she can't have a relationship with a real boy, but she can help Scarlett, who has discovered that she and Damen have a lot in common.

In spite of the editorial gaffes, including the missing information mentioned above and numerous proofreading errors, this novel engages the reader. Charlotte's insecurities, while extreme, will resonate with teens who struggle with the same issues. Sexual innuendo, but no language or violence. Good for girls aged 12+/grades 7-9.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another one by E. Lockhart

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart, tells the story of geek-turned-beauty Frankie as she traverses her sophomore year at an exclusive (is there any other kind?) East Coast prep school. She's getting noticed now that she's curvaceous and lands a hot senior boyfriend on her first day back on campus, but she has qualms about the whole beauty v. substance dichotomy that the school seems to nurture. The plot thickens when she figures out that her beau belongs to the school's infamous secret society, the very one her father had been in oh-so-many-years-ago. Of course it's only for boys, yet Frankie not only locates the long-lost club history, but also figures out a way to trick the boys into doing her bidding in a series of amazing pranks by impersonating the co-president of the club through an ambiguous email address. He's the "alpha" dog of the pack and ignores her as much as possible. Her fabulous boyfriend never confides in her about the pranks or the secret club and Frankie grows increasingly dissatisfied with their relationship and the "Old Boy" patriarchy rampant at the school.

Yes, it's all fairly predictable, but Lockhart throws in some interesting Foucauldian theory about institutions (the Panopticon!), and Frankie herself is an endearing character coping with normal teen issues. Great read for teen girls. Very mild sexual content.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stone's Fall by Iain Pears (2009)

Stone's Fall is one of those sprawling historical epics that I generally avoid, but Pears has spiced it up with enough romance, passion, intrigue, politics, murder, suspense, and Euro-chic that I found myself willingly turning the 500-plus pages. The plot revolves around resolving the death, perhaps murder, of major industrialist John Stone, who fell from a window at his London home in 1909 (hence the novel's title). Stone's widow hires an unlikely journalist to ferret out the identity of a love child named as a benefactor in Stone's will, and so the story begins. The widow is beautiful, the journalist becomes enamored, the plot twists and turns through time (1909, 1890, 1867) and space (London, Paris, Venice) with war, munitions, international espionage, government bigwigs, and financial wheeling and dealing--all running amok to explain the story's beginning. NPR listed this novel as one of its summer reads for 2009!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pile of books.....

I helped out at the middle school Scholastic Book Fair on Tuesday afternoon and naturally I purchased a small pile of books!

My middle school son (age 12) asked me to get him all three of Heather Brewer's The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod vampire novels:
  • Eighth Grade Bites
  • Ninth Grade Slays
  • Tenth Grade Bleeds
For my just-entered-high-school son, I selected the last volume of the Bone graphic novel series, Crown of Horns, plus Gordon Korman's new one, Zoobreak. Both of the boys enjoyed Swindle--Korman's story about baseball cards--so Zoobreak seemed like a good bet. It's also short, which is a plus for my guys as they can read it in one sitting.

The scientist husband viewed the fair at the school open house on Monday night and selected a few titles from a fun science series. These small, appealing books, about seven inches square, were created by Basher and written by Dan Green.
  • Biology: Life as We Know It!
  • The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!
  • Physics: Why Matter Matters!
I limited myself to a single selection--House of the Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo, although there were a bunch of others that looked great! I'm working the book fair again on Friday afternoon, so I may succumb to the temptation to buy a few more--it's for a good cause, right? House of the Dark Shadows is the first in the Dreamhouse Kings series and features a 15-year-old male protagonist.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart

Ruby Oliver is back in this latest novel by E. Lockhart. She's still having panic attacks and boy/friend issues, still seeing her shrink, Dr. Z., and still letting her impulses get her into funny situations from which she manages to extract some insight into her psyche. I enjoyed this one as well as the previous two installments, The Boy Book and The Boyfriend List. Highly recommended for teen girls, ages 13 and up. No sex/language/violence.